Ask LH: Is Mac OS X Greener Than Windows 7?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m a student using a MacBook Pro for uni on which I’ve got Mac OS X & Windows 7 dual booted. I’m constantly switching between the two depending on what I need to do (though Windows is my preferred OS). Recently I’ve noticed that the battery lasts longer on the OS X side than it does on the Windows 7 side, even when only browsing the internet. Why is this? Does this mean that OS X is more energy efficient (& hence environmentally friendly) than Windows?

I’ve even got Aero turned off but Windows still eats almost four hours of the battery more than OS X! I’m willing to make the full switch to OS X & virtual machine the Windows programs I need if it is. You know, doing my part for the environment. Thank you for your help, Energised Student

Picture by Ed Yourdon

Dear Energised Student,

The answer to your question is twofold: yes, your MacBook is pretty much guaranteed to do a better job of power management and offer longer battery life when you're running Mac OS X than when you're running Windows. But that doesn't mean that Windows itself is inherently less energy-efficient than Mac OS X. It means that Windows is less energy-efficient when running on a MacBook, which isn't surprising.

Apple controls both the coding of OS X and the components used in a MacBook, so it can design them to work extremely efficiently together. When it comes to running Windows, while the Mac can do this pretty well, it's never going to receive the same degree of optimisation attention from Apple engineers. (By the same token, while you can convert a PC into a Hackintosh, you're unlikely to get the same level of battery performance as you would if you stuck with Windows.)

So if energy use (and battery life) is a concern, what should you do? If sticking with the MacBook is your preferred route, then cutting back on the Windows apps you use will definitely pay dividends. Running Windows apps in a virtual machine may improve battery performance, but because running VMs places extra demands on your processor, I imagine you won't get quite as good results as you would running purely native apps, and you might not notice much difference relative to your current dual-booting strategies. The only way you'll know is if you try, though.

If you do want to run a lot of Windows apps, then your best bet would be to switch to a dedicated Windows notebook, where you'll likely find that your battery performance will be much improved because the hardware optimisation will work more effectively.

If readers have their own strategies for maximising battery life on a MacBook also running Windows, we'd love to hear them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker


Comments

    Interesting post. When i first bought my macbook pro in mid 2009, i was so nervous about making the switch to OS X that i immediately BootCamped a Windows OS and transferred everything across to Windows with the idea that i would still only use Windows as my primary OS and OS X as a get-to-know environment.. About 3 months in, i found myself using windows less and less, i had even setup VMWare to recognise my bootcamp partition so i could run it within OS X..

    I now never use windows simply because i find OS X far more stable, efficient and longer lasting on the battery. And besides, you can find an application to do almost anything through OS X that you were used to in Windows.

    I must admit though, Windows 7 is by far their best OS which i use at work and have had hardly any problems with it But like Lifehacker replied, OSX have just done a great job making OS X run much more efficiently with the battery.

    Most standard notebooks running windows start off giving you 4-5 hours battery, and over a short period of time you need to have the power adapter in all the time!!!

    I'd like a link to exactly what "hardware optimisations" that a generic PC running Win7 receives over a Mac running Win7?

    A modern Mac is made from off-the-shelf PC components, so I'm doubtful that a generic PC would benefit from any specific "hardware optimisations" at all.

    I'm especially doubtful that "hardware optimisation" would result in (somewhere close to) a 50% improvement in battery life.

      The Mac OS is designed to run on specific hardware, meaning it can use the hardware in a much better method than an os designed to run on a plethora of different hardware. Its like getting a car and putting certain parts in it to make it run better.

        spot on!

      Yeah agreed. The Mac wins on battery life because Apple can optimise the OS for the very limited range of hardware it will be running on.

      Without wanting to sound conspiratorial, if you install Apple's BootCamp drivers into Windows, you're installing their version of the video card driver... and, in my experience, it's the video card that chews the most juice on a BootCamp install (entirely empirical observation, BTW - OSX typically runs cool, but Win7 will superheat the graphics chipset up on my old MacBook Pro even if Aero isn't in use).

        Very true, Windows get really damn hot!!!!

        You mean Apple's driver? Wasn't entirely clear if you meant Apple's or Microsoft's.

        Slightly conspiratorial, but doesn't mean it's not highly probable. They've done things like that before (Quicktime slow on PC, the infamous 'blue screen' icon for when browsing PCs on a network)

          Yes, sorry - I meant that Apple's driver (or rather, their possibly sub-optimal choice of nVidia drivers) is installed, and it always seems to be running at top speed.

            Nothing stops you from installing nVidia's stock driver - I did, and the difference was marginal, though I must admit slightly better performance.

      While a Mac might be made from "off-the-shelf PC components", they are very specific components.

      You won't be able to buy 10 same-model Macs and find 10 different sets of components inside, you will find the same, selected parts, that then allows Apple to write code specifically for them.

      The fewer drivers you need to write to get software working with hardware, the less trouble you run into, and the better everything runs.

      It's also due to Apple's lack of care when creating their Windows drivers. Most Laptop manufacturers are real keen to get the best performance out of their batteries and thus work very hard optimising their drivers so windows will run and efficiently as possible. Apple has little reason to do this, their battery life claims (which appears to be the only figure that ever gets published), are based on OSX performance not Windows. So they can make just-good-enough drivers for windows, take a performance/battery hit because of it and not be any worse off.

      It frustrates me to no end to be honest. My Macbook has less options/worse performance then my GF's $500 Toshiba laptop, both running Windows 7. It would be nice if Apple actually cared enough to come out with some decent drivers, but I'm not holding my breath.

        +1, this is exactly the case.

        Is it not possible to ditch the BootCamp driver for, say, the graphics card, and install the nvidia/ati/intel one? That should work better, no?

      This is all very true, i have triple booted an old first generation mbp with osx leopard, windows and linux. It turns out for a fact that the drivers provided by the latest bootcamp ran the graphics card at twice the speed it does when it is in osx ( 800Mhz windows 400mhz in OSX ) which has damaged the gfx card so i get artifacts in anything graphic intensive. I also got much better battery life and coolness in ubuntu as that had better drivers and you could actually throttle the cpu speed.

      MY ULTIMATE RECOMMENDATION:
      You need to force your fans to go faster in windows on any mac, i have dual booted many of my friends laptops and my own mbp laptop has burnt the keyboard into the plastic of the screen. There is a program called MacFan...

      http://sourceforge.net/projects/macfan/

      That will enable you to do this. You will need to create a shortcut to the executable then edit the target and add 6000 6000 to the end as arguments.

      e.g.
      "C:\MacFan\macfan.exe 6000 6000"

      This will make your mac a bit louder than usual and will use a little more battery but if you can manage you temperatures well you can turn them down to 3000 RPM. 60 - 75 degrees should be a good standard. Programs such as Speedfan are also a good tool to measure you temps.

      And you should also really be using Windows 7 NOT XP as XP afaict cannot throttle cpu usage.

      Luckily now I am a happy Lenovo Thinkpad user, but sometimes i miss the niceness of the aluminium body.

    Would virtualising Windows make a difference? Perhaps using Parallels etc?

      This was covered in the third paragraph of the reply. It may help, but VMs invariably tax the processor more than native apps, so the battery life saving may not be so dramatic.

    a few years old now:
    http://www.pcworld.com/article/136649-3/in_pictures_the_most_notable_notebooks_of_2007.html
    "The fastest Windows Vista notebook we've tested this year--or for that matter, ever--is a Mac. Not a Dell, not a Toshiba,..."

      Interesting. Performance speed and battery efficiency aren't the same thing, though.

    I am thinking that it's a driver issue on using windows on a mac. I honestly don't expect apple to let windows on their hardware get better battery life than OsX.

    My laptop automatically underclocks itself, dims the screen and other things under windows 7. I wonder, does Windows 7 do these things on a mac?

    Ok peeps.

    What it ultimately boils down too is the ability to access each graphics chipset in your mbp. OSX defaults to the energy efficient low end chipset. When you use bootcamp, your windows installation voids your option of choosing a chipset and automatically gives you access to the performance graphics chipset. You can also use this in OSX by changing your power saving options (you will notice considerably reduced battery life and a much hotter mbp). In newer macbooks i believe this switching of graphics chipsets has an automatic implementation under OSX depending on the graphic demands of the software being used (don't quote me).

    Call me crazy, but I get pretty similar battery performance running Win7 on bootcamp on my thunderbolt MacBook Pro 13" as with OSX.

    Lifehacker you should actually do some tests and see how we go???

      Quite aside from the fact that I don't personally use a MacBook :), the issue with testing in this scenario is that usage patterns vary such a lot -- I'm not sure how meaningful a single individual test would be.

    guys, listen, Apple makes their own hardware and their own software (they are the only computer company to do so). Macs are not made from off-the-shelf pc parts, but apple manufactures all their parts themselves (except only for the intel core). This way, they can optimize performance between the hardware and software, so obviously OS X is going to run better and more efficiently on its native hardware, what it was originally designed for.Apple did not create their hardware to run windows, and since OS X and windows are completely different OP's, it is not going to be the same

      Very oversimplified view, that -- all the components in an Apple system are manufactured by other providers, albeit often to Apple-specific dimensions.

    also, why would Apple want to increase the performance of windows (a competitor) on their own machine? If you want a windows, go buy a pc. Don't buy a mac to put windows on it, rather use it for what it is for

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